I loved reading this story recently. And apparently according to my Facebook timeline so did a whole lot of other Christians. It really is a good showing for the team. Particularly our team that seems to take more than it’s fair share of hits. Some of them unfair but honestly many of them thoroughly deserving. So then, here it is, a Christian feel-good story. Here is the evidence that we are making a difference. We do care about the poor, social justice and racial reconciliation. A mortal wound to the myth that we are represent essential middle-class, politically conservative values. We can call this one a victory and sleep sweetly tonight.
But like most fans of major sports teams who love to use the rather generous pronoun “we” when referring to the achievements of our sporting teams, many of us are off the mark in our celebrations. I well remember the sharp quip I witnessed last year when Steve Timmis was having a friendly go at Gavin Peacock concerning Steve’s beloved Manchester United’s drubbing of a Chelsea team containing Gavin Peacock in the 1994 FA Cup Final, Just as Steve was at his most smug, someone piped up from the floor, “Yes but which one of you was actually on the field that day?” Point – Gavin. Silenced – Steve.
Thanks for cheering on the team today. But are you actually on the field? Or do you prefer to cheer on your heroes from the stands with your warm jacket, dry seat and a flask of coffee.” You might be allowed to get away with that rhetoric at the pub with your favourite players name emblazoned on your replica shirt but in the kingdom there are no supporters clubs, no comfy seats and no replica shirts. You are either on the field or out the game altogether.
Not everyone is a superstar but everyone is called to get their boots muddy. I played football. I still have my team socks, team jacket and the dodgy knee to prove it. I did the hard yards in the mud, in the rain and even in the blazing sun. I chased back in plenty of lost causes. I even stuck in a few goals for the cause. I was not a great player, I was not even a very good player but I was on the field. I played for some terrible teams with some terrible score-lines. Once we even had the distinction of finishing bottom of the very bottom league in the whole division. They could not even relegate us because there was simply nowhere else to go. But every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday we showed up to play football. We laughed, we fought, we blamed the ref, we blamed each other, we backed each other, we cheered and jeered our own players and somehow in the midst of all that we got to play some football, respect each other and create some good memories as the goals flew past us.
You don’t have to be a superstar but you do have to lace up your boots. You have to get on the field.
Do you have space in your life for messy, broken lives? For people who are not like you? People who do not hold the same values or convictions as you? Do you know, by name that is, people who are struggling with addictions, mental illnesses or eating disorders? Have you ever stopped to actually talk to the guy who scratches in your bins or knocks on your door asking for money? Or are you too busy getting ready to go to the next church event?
Perhaps this story has to force us to consider even where we live. What are the values that drive where you choose to live? Many of us live in nice, neat, sanitized suburbs with the beautiful veneer of comfort, respectability and safety (the holy trinity of evangelical property purchases?), far away from the messiness and discomfort of poverty. And just in case we put up nice big walls, and gates with an intercom system to make sure that we don’t even have to look at the “bergie” asking for money in the eye? Most middle-class South African would not even have flinched at the derogatory term in the previous sentence!
More of us need to consider ways in which we might be downwardly mobile. I strongly believe this is a key issue to a rightly lived out gospel story here in South Africa. To remain in our comfortable, secure, middle-class church culture is antithetical to the gospel of the one who gave up all the glory, security, comfort and riches of heaven to come eat with outcasts, misfits, sinners, prostitutes, traitors, thieves, political revolutionaries and the unclean. More than that to die for them. To die for us. To lay down his life for our sins. To follow Jesus is follow him who laid down his life for the undeserving, the unlovely and the ungrateful. To follow Jesus is to live among the broken, the sick and the lost. To eat with the outcasts, the sinners and the cynics. To give up your small ambitions and believe the gospel words that he who wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Jesus and for the gospel will save it.
Disclaimer: I am middle-class. I have nothing against being middle-class and I am certainly not suggesting that middle-class is evil, wrong or less Christian. Nor am I suggesting that we all need to give up all our possessions and become poor. That is surely just bizarre. But we do need to move towards life together with the poor, the outcast, the sick, the broken and the sinners. How that looks? There are no magic answers but the questions remain, and demand our attention.